In my previous entry I touched upon the practice of people travelling cross-country to attend gigs in local grassroots venues. This is something I witnessed again on this past weekend. The Crescent in York is the epitome of a grassroots venue serving its local community. On Saturday night The Crescent hosted an act synonymous with the York live music scene, Boss Caine launching their latest album by performing it in full. I would estimate if you were to go top any 10 gigs in York chances are you would encounter Dan Lucas, the brain behind Boss Caine at 6 of them either as a performer, hosting events such as the Sundown Sessions or simply as a member of the audience. Despite this appearing to be a gig as rooted in York as its possible to get there were people in attendance from all over the country who had taken the time to travel to York to be at this gig (Side note: I will never get bored with seeing Londoners joyful/shocked reactions to northern beer prices). What really struck me was how many of these people already knew each other from meeting at previous shows in other areas of the country. They were not just mere acquaintances, they had brought gifts for each other. I could pull out several examples of the community spirit I encounter at gigs every week but I think the sharing of homemade scones between people who live hundreds of miles apart says everything you need to know.
Another gig last night (Monday), this time it was Ginger Wildheart at The Fulford Arms. I am a huge Wildhearts fan and it was my Wildheart fandom that first lead me into the “gig family” community that I have previously written about. I know I can walk into a Wildheart gig and I see people who I know well without having to make any advance plans to meet up with them. This was the case last night and unsurprisingly most of the people I knew had travelled a not insignificant distance to be there. During the show Ginger (himself currently in the process of becoming a York local) asked how many people in attendance were from York and it was maybe a 50/50 split of local fans and those who had travelled.
You may by now be sensing a trend that fans are generally willing to travel to see their favourite bands and to meet up with people who share their musical tastes. If that’s the case you may ask whether it really matters if a few venues close down, surely the fans will just travel elsewhere to see bands? Maybe so, but I would like you to think back to your first gig. How old were you? How far did you travel? For me it was Iron Maiden, Manchester MEN arena, Dec 9th 2003. I was 16. I travelled an hour on the train from Chester with my friends we were only able to attend thanks to the willingness of my dad to pick us up at nearly midnight (the last train back to Chester left from the other side of Manchester at the same time the concert finished). For years as a youth living in Chester this became the normal way to attend a concert. Until the opening of the Live Rooms in 2013 Chester did not have a venue regularly hosting touring bands. Occasional acts at Telfords Warehouse that could draw a crowd such as Frank Turner in 2011 but generally we were restricted to DJs, open mic nights, cover bands and local part-time folk musicians. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with any of those things (I saw some cracking cover bands at the Flookersbrook back in the day), but a lack of variety, badly promoted gigs and venues that were simply not set up for hosting live music meant people simply were not engaging with the local music scene. Go to any local club night and you would meet people who loved their music but rarely if ever went to gigs. Even I, who now regularly travels up and down the country for live music, rarely travelled more than about an hour to attend a gig despite not having a local venue to attend. As I mentioned in an earlier post it was only when I moved to a town with a handful of grassroots venues that I started to feel part of the live music community that gave me that extra motivation to start travelling to gigs I admit this is an anecdotal account of being a music fan in a small town but I expect that if I were to speak to fans up and down the country I would hear about similar experiences. And that is exactly what I intend to do, as part of the survey I am designing for my dissertation I will be asking fans about their early live music experiences particularly when they attended their first gig and how far they travelled (please feel free to share any first gig anecdotes in the comments section). It is my hope that I will be able to demonstrate some correlations between fans having easy access to local grassroots venues and feeling a part of a wider community within live music fandom. This is why we need grassroots venues, they not only give so many people their first taste of live music, they also nurture that sense of community that larger corporate venues don’t (please don’t read that as a dig at large venues, I have enjoyed many gigs at bigger venues to its just a different form of enjoyment). Yes people will travel for gigs but if we want a thriving live music scene that spans the country we need to ensure that we maintain and protect our network of grassroots music venues.
Finally I just want to thank those of you who have taken the time to read and support my first forays into blog writing. Seeing the visit counter slowly tick upwards and getting notifications when people follow me has re-assured me that this could turn into a worthwhile endeavour.